How to define your brand voice

by Adam Hayes on 01 May 2014
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'Brand voice' is one of those marketing buzzwords that you either love or hate. In simple terms, it just means the style of language your business uses when communicating with its customers. In this blog, we'll strip away all the hot-air and talk (in plain English!) about exactly what brand voice is and why it's important. We'll look at some great examples, and help you decide what your company's brand voice should sound like. We'll also offer some helpful tips in rolling it out across your brand!

What is 'Brand Voice?'
The English language is a versatile little animal, and gives us a number of different ways to communicate similar messages. We often choose different words based upon our environment - at work, we're unlikely to use the exact same words, phrases and delivery as we would in the pub with our mates. We might not think about it, but we're subconsciously deciding on how to communicate, pretty much every time we open our mouths.

Let's roll with the pub analogy for a minute. "I'd like a pint of your finest, premium lager, please, barkeep," communicates the exact same message as, "Pint, please mate." It just does so in a dramatically different way, with all kinds of different signals and undertones.

Brands are exactly the same. Consistency is really important, so 'brand voice' is about choosing a communication style, and sticking to it like glue - words, phrases and tone - across multiple media types, to build a sense of personality about your brand.

What it basically comes down to is, if your brand was a person, what would it say and how would it sound?

Why is it important?
Brand voice is one of the most significant characteristics of your overall brand. Branding is all about presenting your product in a way that sets it aside from the competition, while subtly communicating a range of values. It also helps to build trust.

In life, there are people who captivate us when they tell us a story. We love spending time with them, and hang on their every word. Unfortunately, not everyone has the knack, and being around other people can bore us to tears. And it's no surprise that we generally don't look to pursue deeper relationships with these people.

In the same way, a captivating, authentic brand voice helps companies engage with their audience and create a sense of relationship with them. I suppose what I'm saying is, how you say stuff is every bit as important as what you're saying.

Decisions decisions! Stuff to think about...

  • How's the competition sounding?
    As we've already established, brand voice can be a really helpful tool in differentiating yourself from competitors. So do some research; how do your competing brands communicate with their audience? What do you like about it, and what do you think could be improved?
  • What's your target audience and what will resonate with them?
    When we speak in real life, our communication style is often uniquely tailored to the person we're speaking to. You should definitely use the same rule when it comes to your brand voice. Who do you want to appeal to? Build up a customer profile in your mind and make sure all your communications - print, digital, social - are aimed specifically towards engaging with that person. Use the kind of language your target audience uses and they'll engage with you on a deeper level.
  • What are you selling?
    Certain industries have irreproachable norms when it comes to language style. Let's say you're marketing a luxury brand such as a jewellery company - as much as you'd like to go with a totally new angle, a 'stunning 18ct white gold bridal sest, adorned with one carat of exquisite diamonds' is always likely to sell better than 'an awesome white gold ring with a humungous rock!' Again, do your research in this area and see what others in your industry are doing.
  • How do you and your team actually communicate?
    This may be the most important consideration. As with all marketing, you can bet it'll be that much more successful if it's believable. This isn't something you can just create or think up on a whim. It requires deep thought, believability and must be intertwined with who you are as a brand and what you stand for. Think about how you and your team communicate in the office. What are your unique passions, and how do you talk to each other?

Some Great Examples

  • Mini
    Mini is an awesome brand, and its values uniquely form the basis of the company's superb brand voice. The first Minis were designed in the 1950s, at a time when cars were still a luxury product, to make this new form of transportation accessible to Joe Public. As a result, the Mini brand has always been fun, a bit cheeky and very light-hearted, in direct contrast to some of the more 'luxury' brands out there which often take themselves very seriously (not that there's anything wrong with that!) The most impressive thing is how consistently this brand voice is applied across multiple media types. Mini's website, social media channels, printed literature and TV adverts may all be executed slightly differently, but you could easily believe they were all crafted and delivered by the same person, in the same voice.
  • Innocent Drinks
    I love Innocent because, although their smoothies are delicious, these guys are ultimately just selling a very simple fruit drink - you could a) make one at home or b) buy a less expensive own-brand alternative. But people generally don't. Why? Because the Innocent brand is awesome! They don't talk about 'Products,' they talk about 'Things we make.' They don't urge customers to 'contact us,' but instead to 'call the bananaphone.' They don't talk about 'corporate responsibility' but refer to a 'Chain of Good.' Their brand voice uniquely reflects the overall brand, and products they sell. The idea behind 'Innocent' is that there are no 'hidden nasties,' it's just good, honest, straightforward fruit. And, unsurprisingly, their brand voice is all of these things: light-hearted, humorous, straightforward, honest and fun. Check out their website and, particularly, their social media channels, to see what I'm talking about.
  • Harley Davidson
    Harley is arguably the ultimate 'lifestyle' brand, and millions of enthusiasts worldwide live and breathe it, not just because they love riding motorcycles, but they love being part of that story. The way the company addresses its audience is, again, pitch perfect. To pick 2 basic examples from the front page of their website, they don't talk about making 'high quality motorcycles,' but instead speak of '(racing) on adrenaline. Around the track or ripping down the quarter mile, Harley-Davidson has been leading the pack for over a century.' They run training classes which teach beginners how to ride, but rather than speaking about 'tuition of novice riders to learn how to ride a motorcycle' they say: "Bring a buddy, grab a cold one and get ready to kick start the good times. It's basic training for future riders." This, again, is beautifully consistent across all media. It's a perfect illustration of finding out what identifies your brand and then turning up the volume on it.

Rolling It Out
Once you've decided what your voice should sound like, how do you start rolling it out?

  • Educate your team
    As with all marketing, your team are your foot-soldiers, so it's important to make sure you have their buy-in. Your voice must be consistent for people to believe in it, so make sure everybody's on the same page.
  • Web
    Your website is a blank canvas and is a great place to start rolling out your brand voice. Again, consistency is key so make sure you're always talking the same language. The obvious places to start are your home page and 'About' page, but think about your product pages, too.
  • Social
    Because social is so conversational, it's a great place to directly communicate with your customers using your brand voice.
  • Print
    Flyers, leaflets, brochures, posters...they're all awesome opportunities to roll out your brand voice!
  • Video
    Video is one of the most engaging media types on the web and is a great platform to communicate in your chosen style. You're in the right place if you need help with video!

Closing Thoughts
Every time your brand communicates with its customers, you're communicating not only the words you say but how you say them. Every word has many layers of meaning. So make them count! Spend time getting an appropriate brand voice agreed and rolled out with your team. And always remember to ask yourself: if my brand was a person, how would it sound? And, perhaps most importantly, would I like him or her? Good luck!

Content Marketing

Adam Hayes

Written by Adam Hayes

Hey - I'm Adam, Content Manager here at Wyzowl. I'm lucky enough to write words and tell stories for a living. I work with a weird and wonderful bunch of people who share my passion for digital marketing, brand storytelling and, of course, Mario Kart.